DAILY Desher Katha, the popular, progressive daily resumed its publication after nine days, from October 11. The eagerly awaited welcome moment came as the High Court of Tripura put a stay on the illegal and politically ill motivated order of the DM of West Tripura stopping the publication of the paper on October 1. As I submit this copy for press, news from across the state is pouring as how readers are welcoming the order and looking for their copies of the newspaper.
In what will go down as a black day in the history of post independence Indian journalism, the DM had passed an order putting a ban on the publication of the 40- year old newspaper on flimsy grounds of a mismatch between the declaration in the print line of the paper and the records with the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI). The RNI too, at the request of the DM, in an unprecedented move withdrew its own revised certificate of registration within a few hours of issuing the same.
This draconian move of gagging a popular newspaper at the political whims of the BJP led state government was decried all over the country by various journalist organisations including the Editors’ Guild of India, Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Calcutta Press Club etc and there were protest demonstrations in various cities of the country including Delhi, Vizag, Vijayawada and Thiruvananthapuram. Daily Desher Katha Trust, the legal owner of the paper filed a writ petition at the High Court of Tripura, challenging this order. The Trust was represented by senior advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, senior advocate Sankar Deb and a battery of lawyers at the court of the Chief Justice of Tripura High Court, Justice Ajay Rastogi.
The chief justice after hearing the counsel for Daily Desher Katha and the advocate general for the respondents (The state of Tripura and others) has asked the latter to file a counter affidavit in four weeks and a further rejoinder if so advised within two weeks thereafter. The order further read, “In the meanwhile, the future effect and operation of the District Magistrate, West Tripura dt 01.10.2018 followed with the order passed by the Subdivisional Magistrate, Sadar dt 01.10.2018 is hereby stayed.” After this order, there remained no legal bar in the way of resuming the publication of the paper.
Later in a press conference at Daily Desher Katha Bhavan, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said the way the DM, in a direct political connivance, has stopped the publication of Daily Desher Katha and said he will send police to stop the publication if his orders are not followed, is unprecedented in the world. He said, “be it the case of Sakal in 1962 or the recent case of Ganashakti in the Calcutta High Court, the Courts have time and again clarified that the publication of newspapers is a fundamental right guaranteed under the article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India and cannot be undermined in any manner.”
He said the law under which the complaint against Daily Desher Katha was made is for keeping records of the editor, printer, publisher of a newspaper so that in case of a defamation suit or any legal question, the concerned person may be held responsible. He further said, if there is a mismatch in the declaration of the paper, there is a provision for a fine of a few hundred rupees and that too can be imposed by a judge who has the authority to hear such a case. The DM who passed this order had no authority to pass this order. He said, when the Daily Desher Katha submitted on October 1 the revised registration certificate to the DM, he forced the SDM to cancel his authentication and on the same date, asked the RNI to withdraw their revised certificate of registration. All these could not have happened on the same day without political interference. The advocate general who holds a constitutional office too tried to ignore the fundamental rights and proposed that the appeal can be made to the appellate authority at Delhi which could have taken another five to six months. However, the chief justice has accepted our logic and issued a stay order and asked the respondents to file a counter affidavit. He said we have made Sandip N Mahatme, the DM, West Tripura a party in the case. Appropriate actions need to be taken against officers like him who act under political influence and take decisions beyond what the law permits him to do. We have very clearly mentioned in our petition that the DM has given politically motivated orders. Actions are required against him so that such orders with mala fide intentions could be stopped and civil rights are not curbed.
Gautam Das, chairman of Daily Desher Katha Trust thanked Adv Bhattacharya and his associates for pleading on behalf of Daily Desher Katha. He thanked the entire press fraternity across the country and inside the state and all the democratic minded people who have stood in solidarity with Daily Desher Katha by issuing statements and taking out protest rallies in different cities of the country. He said with this order of the DM the readers of Daily Desher Katha have been deprived of their right to information for nine consecutive days. The paper shall resume publication from tomorrow itself. We had in the press conference on October 2, categorically said that order of the DM was illegal and politically motivated and also mentioned that before the order was passed a general secretary of the state BJP had a long meeting with the DM. We believe more information behind this grand conspiracy will come to the fore. We will fight this battle. Daily Desher Katha shall remain the voice of protest and the voice of the people.